Research 2030

Why no university is an island: research leaders on the rise of the engaged civic institution

March 28, 2022 Elsevier Season 3 Episode 1
Research 2030
Why no university is an island: research leaders on the rise of the engaged civic institution
Show Notes Transcript

For this compilation episode, we’ve delved into our archives to explore how the role of universities in their communities is evolving and the many factors driving that change.

Find our full show notes here.

You will hear clips from the following Research 2030 episodes (listed in order of appearance):

Shruti Desai (00:06):

Hello, I'm Shruti Desai and welcome to research 2030 now entering our third year of this podcast. We take a moment to pause, take a deep breath and reflect. Before we dive into a lineup of guests and conversation, we want to tackle a question that many universities have been busy with for some time now: What is their role today? Specifically? What part should they play in the towns and communities they call home? And where do the border of those communities lie within this era of globalization. In 2009, John Goddard of the UK's Newcastle university laid out his vision for the engaged civic university. This institution would connect with its surroundings while it operated on a global scale, its location would help form its identity and provide opportunities for the institution to grow and help others do the same. Importantly, this engaged civic approach would be embraced at all levels of the institution.

Shruti Desai (01:13):

How close have universities come to realizing Godard's vision? We can look back or listen, rather to the thoughts idea and learnings shared by our research 2030 guests that touch on Goddard's vision in some way or another while they were initially interviewed about themes as diverse as blue sky research and university rankings, the social and economic contribution of universities, commonly known as their third mission was an underpinning theme. So we're better to begin than with an episode we released in March, 2021, societal impact SDG research and universities. The community initiatives run by the university of south Pao in Brazil are inspirational. Reducing energy consumption on campus is a major focus for the institution. And it's not long before its innovations are rolled out beyond the university gates as the institution's head of research, Professor Aluísio Segurado.

Aluísio Segurado (02:14):

So we have teams working in incubation offices with the community, trying to solve local problems in the communities that surround our campuses. A lot of effort has been put in one particular project that is being run by our engineering school, Scholar Poly Technica in Sao Paulo with partnership with local communities that is trying to develop innovative solutions, energy use using solar energy and other aspects to really contribute to the spilling over of these initiatives from the campus into the surrounding community.

Shruti Desai (03:00):

The university has taken a similar approach with biodiversity, leveraging its expertise in biofuels to benefit the residents of Sao Paulo equality. And diversity is another passion for the university with initiatives like the grace project, encouraging female school students to apply for degree courses in traditionally male subject areas. The university also reserves places for first year students who for socioeconomic reasons would normally miss out on higher education. In addition, they have retainment programs to help those students complete their degrees, including scholarships, housing support, and subsidized meals. These many initiatives led to the university being ranked 14th globally in the 2020 times higher education impact rankings, which measured university's contributions to the United nations 17 sustainable development goals or SDGs its response to the COVID 19 pandemic exemplifies the university's focus on civic engagement

Aluísio Segurado (04:00):

In a very short period of time, we were able to put together over 200 research teams at USP that were working together in, in an interdisciplinary fashion that had never been seen before in that extent, to try to come out with the novel solutions that ended up with ventilators that were built positioning cushions for those patients with severe respiratory failure development of diagnostic tests at the time when diagnostic tests for COVID 19 were scarce in the country. We were able to put together 19 research laboratories in a network that provided together COVID diagnosis for the health system, for our unified health system.

Speaker 1 (04:54):

The university also contributed to vaccine research and provided beds for patients in its medical facilities. As professor Segurado

Aluísio Segurado (05:03):

I think we really played a pivotal role in providing care in this emergency situation contributing to avoid the collapse of our public healthcare system in a mega city like Sao Paulo. It was a counter a counter argument for those who say that the universities are very rigid in their traditions and that they have a low room for adaptability and flexibility. I think we really show this is not true

Shruti Desai (05:35):

While the desire of universities to give back to their communities is not particularly new factors, such as the global challenges feed featured in the UN SDGs and rising competition for R & D funding have given it new impetus initiatives, like the times higher education impact rankings. First launch in 2019 have also helped to put the role of the university as community supporter and enabler in the spotlight as has inevitably the COVID 19 pandemic. As we've see with the university of Sao Paulo geographic location is also often a factor where societal challenges are high institutions are ideally placed to initiate and support community development. This is particularly true for emerging or young economies as Cesar Wazen, director of scholarships and partnerships at Qatar university noted back in April, 2021.

Cesar Wazen (06:27):

So basically the region is a growing region. It's quite a young young population region and the universities have to reflect that and help its population,

Shruti Desai (06:37):

Crucially universities and areas where funding and facilities are plentiful, have the power and some even say the duty to extend their civic engagement beyond their own community and country borders in the June, 2021 episode on global north south collaboration, Dr. Jennifer Thompson, ER's professor in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape town revealed,

Jennifer Thompson (07:01):

Well, I can speak from both my experience as a scientist in the global south and my experience as working with people in the global north. And I can say from my experience that I would be nowhere near where I am today as a scientist. You, if it hadn't been for my collaboration with the global north and I was on a panel that advised the Canadian organization for research development and their projects were required scientists from Canada to work with scientists from the global south and at a meeting where we were the north and the south were represented. The, the people from the north said, you know, we've got solutions to problems that we don't have, and you've got problems that you don't have solutions to. And by the two of us getting together, the various groups getting together, we can solve all the problems.

Shruti Desai (07:57):

Another way that university can contribute to their region is through partnerships with industry as calls on public R&D funding continue to grow governments and funders are urging institutions to collaborate more with third parties, including the business sector. This has led to the building of academic business science parks that not only benefit local communities in terms of knowledge, but also provide jobs for residents and valuable learning experiences for students. Importantly, according to GlaxoSmith Klein's director of academic liaison, Malcolm Skingle, academic corporate collaborations can greatly accelerate research. And in the case of GSK, the availability of life saving treatments,

Malcolm Skingle (08:42):

We have got lots of excellent world leading scientists in the organization. In fact, crossed hold of R and D we've got slightly more than 12,000 R and D scientists at the moment. But what we actually are tapping into in a, the academic base is the lateral thinking academic who's perhaps working on things that are tangential to the science that we're doing, not absolutely pivotal. Otherwise we would probably do that in house, but it actually amplifies what we're doing. And it, it gives us the confidence in a external research to actually spend more money internally on the research that we want to want to undertake. I mean, last year, I think we spent in excess of 4.6 billion on R and D. So that's not a trivial amount of money. But the actual research that we do in house is quite a small part of the total science we have to tap into to get new medicines into man.

Shruti Desai (09:38):

It's a sentiment that was echoed by Tony Boccanfuso president of the university industry demonstration partnership, otherwise known as U I D P back in November, 2020 in our episode, why two heads are better than one, the power of university industry collaborations.

Tony Boccanfuso (09:56):

I think there's growing recognition that companies and universities really benefit from working collaboratively, that they have complimentary assets and talent is obviously a big piece of these relationships. They've always been in the long term in the us. I think if you look at what the role of government has been in, it's been fairly hands off on these type of relationships. And what we're seeing certainly in the United States, I think is a trend that's been happening globally, which is government is investing or catalyzing relationships between companies and universities to meet big challenges. The grand challenges that you see that are put out, for example, the national science foundation has the 10 big ideas. They've created new programs like the convergence accelerator, which bring together companies and universities to address these big challenges. And that's something that wouldn't have been thought of in the us certainly 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, but you're seeing a lot more of that now. I think there's also a recognition and we're seeing it, unfortunately, because of what's gone on with the economy due to the COVID crisis that companies and universities really need to step back and think about how they're gonna partner and have a sense of urgency around how they collaborate

Shruti Desai (11:12):

For professor Carlos Enrique De Brito Cruz else, your senior vice president of re search networks. There's a third element to throw into that industry, academic mix governments in this clip from August, 2021. He explains

Carlos Enrique De Brito Cruz (11:27):

Countries that manage to create the best environment for this interaction between the three entities achieve very good results in terms of development, in terms of the economy and in terms of improving their societies

Shruti Desai (11:46):

And just like south Africa's Dr. Jennifer Thompson, and many of the others we've spoken with over the course of this series, he believes that joining forces with other countries or regions is key

Carlos Enrique De Brito Cruz (11:56):

International collaboration in research. I, I also see as very, very important it's I mean the world of science and the world of research is, is large and more and more, there is no country that is able to have all the capabilities they need 30 years ago. It was possible. But I believe that the complexity of, of complexity of the world is making that more, are more visible. So that international collaboration, which could be international collaboration, for example, among universities, but it could be a university in one country industry in another country, a research institution in the third country, because communication became so, so convenient and so access today. So there is inter institutional collaboration and there is international collaboration in research that should be exploited to help us advance faster and better.

Shruti Desai (13:07):

Professor De Brito cruises, multiple stakeholder approach struck a chord with a November, 2021 guest. So senior institutional capacity builder, Toni Caro. She believes that to create an environment in which societal impact can truly flourish. All stakeholders must be involved and importantly, be open to change.

Toni Caro (13:29):

We have to do this transformation in a multilevel way starting from the, the institution and all, but also with the researchers themselves, I mean, to change their mindsets of, we need to do science in a more collaborative manner. We need to do science in a, in a manner that we think on how this have the potential to transform the world. And but also at the local level, the national level or the regional, the national and the international level. So all this multi-level transformation and connection

Shruti Desai (14:08):

During that episode on blending societal impact in research strategy, she was joined by Anika S. Duut van Goor director of, of AESIS, the network for advancing and evaluating the societal impact of science. Duut van Goor believes that not only participants, but resources and new ways of working and thinking are required.

Anika S. Duut van Goor (14:30):

You need both the people on the ground to be excited about it. You need people in leadership to be excited about it. And because what you need is you need a change of culture. You need a change of policy. You know, policy can, can include incentives for impact. It needs to create time to focus on impact. You need to change your whole evaluation system to see, you know, where are your strengths and weaknesses what can be improved in order to have more impact you need to think about what kind of skills do your researchers or the rest of your staff need? What kind of facilities might need be needed to to be built?

Shruti Desai (15:20):

Research strategy was also the topic of a lively discussion between two Elsevier vice presidents and October, 2021, during the course of their conversation, talk turned to societal and impact and its role in shaping those strategies. For vice president of research intelligence and global strategic networks, Holly Falk-Krzesinski the UN SDGs offer a structure that universities can use to both increase and align their civic engagement.

Holly Falk-Krzesinski (15:48):

I think that there's been much greater emphasis on the SDGs being a global framework in which you can evaluate societal impact elsewhere in the world, outside the United States. But I am starting to see quite recently that the SDGs and the SDG framework are becoming more important because it does allow us institutions, not only to think about what they're doing and, and, and planning in their own strategic plans, but it touches on one of the other drivers that I see impacting university's research strategies is international collaboration. And so if you're thinking about international collaboration and how you are adding value on a global scale, then you want to be using Frameworks that are comparable to those being used in other regions around the world. So we think we're going to see the SDG frameworks and a greater emphasis on SDGs in the next couple of years to come

Shruti Desai (16:49):

For her fellow guest, VP of academic and government relations. Leslie Thompson, the willing to this to draw on a broader range of perspectives is an important step towards improving societal impact.

Leslie Thompson (17:00):

And if you look at the structure of universities across the world, I'm seeing new types of posts been not being introduced compared to where we were 15 years ago. So most universities now, as well as having somebody on the leadership team that looks after research and somebody that looks after knowledge, transfer, knowledge, exchange, and impact. I'm also seeing the appointment now of specific people, responsible for diversity and equity and equality. And that can only be a good thing going forward. If somebody's mind and senior team is on achieving some of these objectives, then the universities will fit more closely with society's requirements. And that must be good for us all. If we think about the challenges that we face in the 21st century, and the fact that the only way we're gonna get out of some of these challenges is if universities really do play their part in providing the underpinning research and the knowledge that can get us out of the 21st centuries fixes

Shruti Desai (18:07):

According to neuros scientists, psychiatrists, and mindfulness expert, Dr. Judson Brewer. When we talk about benefiting society, it's not only the community surrounding universities, we should consider in a may 2021 episode on value of creating a healthy research culture. He urged universities to look at how they can support the communities within their own walls.

Judson Brewer (18:30):

When I started my own lab, that was one of the things that I just kept saying to myself is, wow, why didn't I get training? You know, this is a small business that I'm running here. You know, I have to get grants, I have to manage people and the people I have to be happy. And so, you know, there that other piece around the emotional wellbeing is, you know, often researchers, maybe I'll just speak for my own experience. It's nice to kind of just dive into the research question because it's concrete, it's quantifiable, and then people's emotions. They're messy, you know, and I can say, this is a psychiatrist. When I go to my clinic, you know, it's kind of like putting on my psychiatrist hat when, when I'm lab or, you know, working with my lab members often, you know, my brain wants to just go to, you know, well, you know, let, let's not deal with the fuzzy stuff because it's, it's, it's harder to quantify. And our, our brains just don't like uncertainty in that respect. So absolutely I can totally relate. And I wish graduate students had a course on how to manage people, how to work with emotions, even just something simple on emotional intelligence would be amazing. And, you know, pretty, pretty straightforward to learn

Shruti Desai (19:42):

For Lee Cronin Regis professor of chemistry at university of Glasgow, the healthy research culture is all about creating an environment in which researchers are encouraged to, to take chances.

Lee Cronin (19:53):

So what I try to do is give people the confidence to think divergently try get feedback. And then when they've tried all these things, and they've got, you know, all these, all these broken hypotheses, we then converge and say, well, is there, are there any diamonds in the rubble? And then we go convergent. And it's a process of allowing ourselves to be crazy, is the wrong word, to be adventurous. And then to say, you know, okay, adventurousness stops now. Let's actually do something according to a timeline. And so it's that kind of movement between those two extremes builds confidence. And also it's a lot of fun because we discover stuff

Shruti Desai (20:37):

As he explains in the following clip from its March, 2020 episode, once researchers have developed that confidence, the next step on the path to societal impact is to encourage them to take the risks and embrace blue sky thinking and approach that in his experience has delivered life changing results.

Lee Cronin (20:56):

A few years ago, Glasgow university wanted to start a energy kind of project. And they came to me and said, look, you know, one of your colleagues thinks very highly of you. He's a world leader in photosynthesis, and we want you guys to work together and we're gonna give you some money from a fund. And it has to address this solar fuel. And I was like, oh my gosh, I don't wanna do solar fuels. I just wanna do crazy stuff. And I went, well, how hang on. I spend my day job trying to put electrons into metal oxides and turn them blue. Cause I want to know, basically when I add more electrons to my metal oxides, I get better nano structures. So why don't I try to think about that? And because I was then had to think about the solar context I came, I discovered a new way of splitting water using metal oxides. And we came up with a system that produces hydrogen. We've got the highest potentially the highest energy capacity flow battery known. It can store 30 times more energy than other flow batteries. And we did this by mistake because we, we basically, I was doing my blues sky thing. And I was asked to basically spend a bit of my time thinking about how I might direct that energy.

Shruti Desai (22:09):

And as we wind up this episode, we'd like to leave you with this thought from New York university, president Dr. Andrew Hamilton in this March, 2020 clip, he reflects that university's benefit mankind in ways that many of us rarely stop to consider.

Andrew Hamilton (22:24):

Now, I, I often use the example of, you know, the importance of the humanities to, to help us understand what it is to be human. It is never more important than when science reaches its limits. And I think of the world of medicine and the remarkable discoveries that have been made over the last half century. That's great until there is no further treatment and then the nature of death and, and it's to the humanities that we can turn for much insight and, and, and in many other areas as well.

Shruti Desai (23:03):

Our sincere thanks to each guest expert who contributed to this compilation for research 2030, and to you for listening. So much has changed since we launched research 2030 and the road ahead still feels ever winding into a distant and foggy horizon. However, one thing is clear, universities and research entities are integral to shaping the journey ahead as we close out this epic. So we would like to share our podcast journey ahead. We will continue bringing together different voices and perspectives from those tackling today's research challenges and shaping the world of tomorrow. However, this year we are experimenting with a slightly different approach rather than monthly episodes covering various topics. We aim to follow a serial format with each series, focus on a particular topic or challenge and released together. Currently, we are working on Series 1, how to measure the societal impact of research. And we hope that you will subscribe to our channel to know when it becomes available.

Shruti Desai (24:08):

And if you're a regular listener, you may be wondering about the change in voices. Giacomo Mancini has been our host and narrator from the first launch, and we have been so fortunate to have him, but he has taken some time to pursue some new opportunities. Don't worry. He is still around and may even pop up here from time to time. But with that said, I, Shruti Desai, am excited to take on the role of research 20, 30 host, and connect with you. If you have thoughts, questions, or feedback, we would love to hear them. Please reach out to us by sending an email Thank you for listening. And again, a big thank you to Giacomo.